Monopoly Hard to Beat in Politics;
Winner-Take-All Dampens Turnout


The winner-take-all electoral system used in legislative and congressional races in the United States has resulted in lopsided victories in 83 percent of all U.S. House races even before the ballots are cast, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy.

The Center, in its report, "Monopoly Politics," available online at www.fairvote.org, predicts the winners for 83% of all U.S. House elections. The analysis finds only 74 out of 435 seats are "up for grabs."

The Center also announced the winners for 91% of state Assembly races and 77% of U.S. House races in California, three weeks before the general election.

"All the talk of how California's new open primary, or the governor's race, or even the Clinton scandal, might affect elections and create more competitive elections overlooks one glaring fact," said the Center's west coast director, Steven Hill. "Most Assembly and U.S. House districts will never be competitive because a clear majority of voters in these districts prefer one political party over the other."

Either because of partisan gerrymandering and incumbent protection, whereby the politicians pick the voters before the voters pick them, or due to the dynamics of single-seat "winner take all" races that force voters into one of two camps--Democrat or Republican--"demography is destiny."

In California, according to the Center, Democrats will win 33 Assembly seats by a landslide (a margin of 20 points or higher) and six more seats by a comfortable margin of 10 points or more. The Republicans will win 25 Assembly seats by a landslide and nine seats by a comfortable 10-point margin. Only seven Assembly races are too close to call.

"What this also means, unfortunately," said the Center's Hill, "is that the voters in only seven districts will see exciting races that are hotly contested and inspire them to participate. But for the voters in the other 91% of California's state Assembly districts, the elections are already over. In fact, they've been over for months. There's nothing to get jazzed about, because those districts are too noncompetitive to cause any surprises."

This fact, noted Hill, directly impacts voter enthusiasm and turnout. "The Center's previous studies have shown that, not surprisingly, voter turnout drops as the degree of competition decreases. It's a pity for the voters." Add to this the general malaise produced by scandals in Washington D.C., and pre-election predictions indicate that November's turnout may be one of the lowest yet.

"Monopoly Politics" finds that winners can be predicted with great accuracy without knowing anything about inequities in campaign finance. The report concludes that in most legislative districts in California and the United States, campaign inequities are of secondary importance to partisan demographics in determining winners. "In too many cases," said Hill, "the only electoral option for voters is to ratify the choice made for them by redistricting committees several years before."

"Monopoly Politics" also predicts that 34 out of 52 (65%) U.S. House seats in California will be won by landslides, and six more seats by a comfortable 10 point margin for a total of 40 out of 52 (77%). "These races are already over," said Hill, "regardless of any goings-on in Washington DC, like impeachment hearings or scandal, and regardless of inequities in campaign finance." Only 10 out of 52 (19%) seats have a chance to be close.

The Center for Voting and Democracy is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that promotes voter participation and fair representation. It is sponsoring a conference on proportional representation November 13-15 in Minneapolis. For information on the conference or on "Monopoly Politics," contact the Center at (415) 665-5044, PO Box 22411 San Francisco, CA 94122-2411, email at shill@fairvote.org, or check the Internet at www.fairvote.org.

Some Key House Races


In the 49th District, San Diego City Councilwoman Christine Kehoe is running an energetic campaign against incumbent Republican surfer Brian Bilbray. Kehoe is running on a progressive platform that includes fighting crime, fighting tobacco interests, protecting student loan programs, and advocating HMO reform. Kehoe, however, has an uphill battle. As noted in the Cook Political Report, despite his votes to reduce NEA funding and to weaken the Clean Water Act, as well as his weak support for abortion rights, Bilbray has managed to paint himself as a moderate.

In other races, Democrats are expected to pick up the 1st District Seat Rep. Frank Riggs (R) is giving up in northern California. State Sen. Mike Thompson, a vintner and self-proclaimed "New Democrat," is favored to win in the 1st while Republican Doug Ose is expected to win in the 3rd District (North Central Valley), where Democratic Rep. Vic Fazio (D) is retiring. The 36th District (West LA County) is rated a tossup after Rep. Jane Harman lost a Democratic primary bid for governor. Republican State Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall, a moderate on social issues but economic conservative, faces Democrat Janice Hahn in a district that gave Clinton a 6-point margin of victory in 1992 and 1996, but has voted Republican in statewide contests. Progressive Rep. George Brown faces another fight to keep his the 42nd District seat in San Bernardino County, which has become increasingly Republican. And in the 46th District (Orange County), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) will face perhaps the ugliest rematch of the election against rabid right-winger Bob Dornan, who she unseated by 984 votes in 1996.

Green candidates are running not only for governor and lieutenant governor (Dan Hamburg and Sara Amir, respectively) and several local races, but also in five congressional Districts. They include Phil Courtney in District 43 (Riverside) Robin Barrett, District 36 (LA South Bay coastal), Krista Wong, District 31(San Gabriel Valley), Walt Sheasby, District 28 (San Gabriel Valley), and Maria Armoudian, District 26, (San Fernando Valley).


1st (Honolulu)

As the state's economy lags behind the nation's, and voter discontent is pretty high Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie faces an aggressive campaigner in ultraconservative state Rep. Gene Ward. Abercrombie is fighting for educational measures like reduced class sizes, increased hiring of teachers, greater funding for school repair and construction, more computers in classrooms. He was a leader in securing funding for the Youth Challenge program, which provides structured learning environments for at-risk youth. He has also come out strongly in favor of protecting our senior citizens by shoring up Social Security in lieu of tax cuts.


17th District (West)

Rep. Lane Evans, a member of the Progressive Caucus in the House, a staunch supporter of organized labor and a champion of veterans' rights, faces a tough re-election challenge. As a ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, he successfully spearheaded the successful effort to pass Agent Orange compensation. He also led the fight for a ban on land mines. Although Evans is running a well-organized campaign for his 9th term, the district is a tough one, with only 47% of voters identifying themselves as Democrats. Also, Evans squeaked by his opponent, Republican former TV anchorman Mark Baker in 1996 with 52% of the vote, but big business is expected to weigh in with television advertising.


9th District (Southeast)

In the race for the southeast Indiana seat Democrat Lee Hamilton is giving up, Democrat Baron Hill is running a tight race. A poll in August of likely voters showed his opponent, State Senator Jean Leising, up 48% to 38%. At that time the Clinton scandal appeared to be playing to Leising's advantage. Hill recently had raised three times as much as Leising but third party interest groups were expected to intervene and blast Hill for his solid progressive stances on issues. Hill supports an increase in the minimum wage, the bipartisan "Patient's Bill of Rights," and assistance to schools for renovation and construction.


1st District (South)

Shelley Berkley, a lifelong Nevadan, is running ahead of Republican Don Chairez for the seat Republican John Ensign gave up to run for the Senate. The district traditionally votes Democratic but the electorate has become more Republican over the years. Berkley was an elected Regent for Nevada's University and Community College System, former president of a local PBS and school district television station, and a member of her local school district's advisory committee, and she favors smaller classes for students, improved Internet access, better training for teachers, innovative dropout prevention programs, as well as free summer school for kids.

New Mexico

Democrats have an outside chance at sweeping three Republicans out, including two Republicans who won special elections, but Green candidates may play the spoiler again in at least two of the races. In the 1st District (Albuquerque), state Sen. Phil Maloof (D), who was defeated by 6 points by Heather Wilson (R) in a June special election, gets a general election rematch with what is expected to be a larger and more Democratic turnout. But Green candidate Bob Anderson, an instructor at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, was polling double digit support in October.

In the 2nd District (South), Shirley Baca is a progressive former state representative from Las Cruces who is in a rematch with incumbent Joe Skeen (R). Although polls show her playing catchup, Democrats hope to register and turn out the 190,000 Hispanics who live in the district, which borders Mexico. Baca understands the need for strong social programs and economic growth in the poorest state in the union. She supports initiatives to ensure adequate childcare for children of working parents, fewer students per class, strengthening Head Start programs, providing tax breaks to small businesses who hire welfare-to-work recipients, and ending soft money loopholes that allow the wealthy to donate unlimited amounts of money to political parties. She strongly opposes the Gingrich Plan of raiding the surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund to provide tax breaks for the wealthy. For schools, she wants to see fewer students per classroom and capital improvements for the thousands of schools in disrepair in New Mexico and around the country.

In the 3rd District (North and East Central), right-wing Rep. Bill Redmond (R) owes his 1997 special election win to a strong showing from a Green candidate. Redmond faces a stronger Democratic rival this year in Democrat Tom Udall, the state attorney general. Carol Miller is back as a Green challenger. Prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, have appealed to the Greens to vote Democratic and at least one prominent Green, Abraham Guttman, has endorsed Udall's candidacy, but Miller, a public health worker, rejected the reasoning for a Democratic vote, as expressed by Michael Moore in an open letter on page 4.

"Bill Clinton ... should confess to being a co-dependent adult child of alcoholics (ACOA) and stop forcing us to watch the dysfunctional behavior of lie, blame, deny and cover-up by him, his family, the Cabinet and the D's," Miller wrote. "I believe he should resign because this behavior has carried over into his policies--a few examples: NAFTA is good for American workers, this is a good welfare reform bill, we bombed Sudan to strike out at a threat to the U.S., ad nauseum.

"A Democratic sweep would be a terrifying affirmation of lying and cheating being rewarded behavior. It's not sex, it's sickness we are dealing with. He could have taken responsibility and not lied months ago and the whole issue would have been over. He could have settled the Paula Jones case years ago. He is a scary man with too much power and a mental health problem. He could actually help millions of others struggling with these problems be being a role model, not a poster child for dysfunction.

"This 'reward' would send the family violence and substance abuse issues back to the dark ages."

New York

In the 26th District (South) Maurice Hinchey has sponsored the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform legislation, opposed privatizing Social Security, and helped pass a child tax credit for low income families. Although Hinchey is running for his third term in Congress, he has never gotten more than 55% of the vote. This election Hinchey faces two opponents: Terry Randall of Operation Rescue and Republican Bud Walker. Randall might siphon off some of Walker's potential votes, but the race is still close.

In the 31st District (South), Caleb Rossiter brings progressive intelligence and commitment to his campaign. He holds a Cornell Ph.D. in Policy Analysis and founded Demilitarization for Democracy, which aims to ban land mines and to implement a Code of Conduct that would restrict the sale of arms to dictators. He also plans to run 300 miles across his district in a "Run for Jobs" to highlight the fact that during the tenure of his opponent, six-term Republican Amory Houghton, unemployment has risen from 10% above the national average to 40% above it. Rossiter is considered an underdog, with 72% of the vote going to Houghton last election cycle, but the district narrowly voted Democrat for president in 1996.


1st (West Cincinnati)

Roxanne Qualls, three-term mayor of Cincinnati, was in a dead heat challenging two-term incumbent Republican Steve Chabot. Qualls has racked up a strong record of progressive leadership for working families in Cincinnati. As mayor she helped increase home ownership among low- and moderate-income families and organized a summer youth employment program to teach children work skills. In Congress, she intends to focus on protecting Social Security, reforming managed health care, protecting neighborhoods from crime, and enhancing public education. Chabot has criticized Qualls for publicly standing by President Clinton, who personally recruited her for this race.


1st District

Democrat Lydia Spottswood, the former president of the Kenosha City Council, has a good chance of winning this race and reclaiming this southeast Wisconsin district. She faces Republican Paul Ryan, a former legislative director for Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, as Republican Rep. Mark Neuman challenges Sen. Russell Feingold. As a former nurse, Spottswood has made health care a core issue of her campaigns, including a comprehensive plan to reform HMOs. In addition, she promotes education improvements such as reducing class sizes, disciplining potentially violent troublemakers and modernizing schools.

In the 2nd District (South, Madison), state Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D), the only openly gay member of the Wisconsin state legislature, faces former state Insurance Commissioner Josephine Musser in a race to replace retiring Rep. Scott Klug (R) in a traditionally Democratic seat. Baldwin supports universal health care and has a solidly pro-labor voting record and the AFL-CIO is expected to mount a vigorous effort to get out the vote.

Republicans have their best chance to pick up a seat in the 8th District (Northeast-Green Bay, Appleton), where state Assemblyman Mark Green is challenging incumbent Rep. Jay Johnson, a moderate Democrat who won the seat in 1996.

Key Senate races


Barbara Boxer, elected to the Senate in 1992, is in danger of losing her seat to Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong, as polls have shown the race to be a virtual dead heat. Boxer is a strong proponent of increasing the minimum wage, passing a Patient's Bill of Rights, and improving public education. During her first term in the Senate, Boxer helped create a one-stop Defense Conversion Clearinghouse to help communities hit hard by defense cuts. She also pushed through the Violence Against Women Act which she had introduced as a House member.


Sen. Paul Coverdell, who started out the year as one of the most vulnerable GOP senators in the South but has maintained double-digit leads in polls over Democrat Michael Coles. A cookie magnate who ran unsuccessfully against House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1996, Coles is relatively unknown, but the race is expected to tighten and turnout will have a critical role for this seat, which has changed party control in three consecutive elections. Coles holds progressive positions on environmental regulation, education, HMO reform and Social Security. He supports medical care for veterans, which he said Coverdell and the Republican Congress have tried to cut, and he would repeal the "marriage tax" that double-charges married couples


Probably the most endangered Democratic senator is Carol Moseley-Braun, who has trailed in independent polls against right-wing Republican Peter Fitzgerald, who supports turning Medicare into an HMO bureaucracy and is on record favoring the elimination of the Department of Education. Senator Moseley Braun is a leader in the fight to preserve Social Security and Medicare. She wants HMO reforms that will allow doctor to make decisions about their patients' health rather than the HMO bureaucrats. She also has called for rebuilding schools that are in disrepair.


Former Gov. Evan Bayh (D) is expected to pick up the Senate seat given up by right-wing Republican Sen. Dan Coats. Bayh, the son of liberal former Sen. Birch Bayh, has staked out a "New Democrat" course that gives pause to progressive Democrats, but he would be a distinct improvement over either Coats or this year's Republican candidate, Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke.


The race for the seat Sen. Wendell Ford (D) is giving up is rated a tossup, as Democrat Scotty Baesler faces Republican Jim Bunning in a hard-fought race in a state that still has a nominal Democratic leaning. Baesler had a moderately progressive voting record in three terms in the House, breaking with the Clinton Administration mainly over tobacco. Bunning, a solid conservative, can count on the help of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Mitch McConnell.


Sen. Harry Reid (D), who has a generally progressive voting record, faces a tough fight for re-election against right-wing Rep. John Ensign (R). Polls showed the race was a tossup in a state that Bill Clinton narrowly carried in 1996.

New York

U.S. Rep. Charles E. Schumer has become known for anti-crime and particularly gun control efforts, which play better in his Brooklyn district than in the state at large, but he also has compiled a pro-consumer record as a ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee and has a solidly progressive voting record. He is challenging the ethically challenged incumbent Republican Sen. Alphonse D'Amato in a race that is rated a tossup.

North Carolina

John Edwards, a Raleigh trial lawyer with populist roots, is challenging Lauch Faircloth, a businessman so conservative, according to The Nation, that he refers to Jesse Helms as North Carolina's liberal senator. Faircloth, whose agribusiness operations have been cited for numerous health, environmental and worker safety violations, has championed environmental deregulation and draconian welfare reform while Edwards promises to side with working-class folks. "I've spent the last 20 years representing people against powerful institutions: insurance companies, banks," Edwards told The Nation. He pledged that he would represent the people who have been left out of the process, be they rural communities whose rivers have been contaminated or patients who can't get lifesaving medical procedures because of HMO greed.

South Carolina

Sen. Fritz Hollings (D) faces a tough challenge from Rep. Bob Inglis (R). Hollings has antagonized some progressives, particularly organized labor, with his efforts to make it harder for Federal Express workers to unionize and his opposition to a ban on replacing striking workers, but he generally has a progressive voting record, supports campaign finance overhaul, has staunchly opposed Republican efforts to undermine state product liability legislation and as a critic of free trade he has fought efforts to undermine Congress' role in trade negotiations. In short, he is about the best progressives can hope for in increasingly Republican South Carolina. Inglis is a conservative aligned with the Christian Coalition.


Patty Murray, "the mom in tennis shoes," as it turns out, treads a reliably progressive path through the halls of the Senate. Her key issues are education, the environment, and a woman's right to choose. Murray has written legislation which would reduce class size, increase training for teachers, and give parents time to attend activities at their childrenís schools. While Murray's pollsters show her with a lead, the right wing is lined solidly behind opponent Republican Rep. Linda Smith.


Sen. Russ Feingold (D) challenged Rep. Mark Neumann (R) to agree to a campaign spending cap of $3.8 billion dollars and has refused to take advantage of unregulated "soft" money, which goes to the party. Unfortunately, Neumann, who is in the pocket of conservative special interests, has already benefited from those interests through a million dollars worth of favorable television ads. Democrats 2000, a political action committee that supports progressive populist Democrats, wrote: "The contrast between progressive and reactionary could not be starker. Feingold has stuck consistently with our seniors by voting to protect the Social Security Trust Fund; his opponent has not. Feingold has fought consistently for environmental protection; his opponent has been voted as one of Congress' 'Dirty Dozen' by the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters. Feingold has fought for smaller class sizes, protection of student aid programs; his opponent wants to privatize our schools and eliminate student aid programs. Feingold is doing a terrific job of safeguarding the public interest, we don't need a new man in his seat, especially not Mark 'Christian Coalition' Neumann."

Alternatives on the Rise

While the election typically is posed as a choice between Democrats and Republicans, Richard Winger of Ballot Access News notes that 89 percent of voters in the United States will receive a ballot containing a minor party or independent candidate for office. That is the highest level of alternative candidates since 1934, when 95.5 percent of voters had a choice other than D or R.

The 11 percent of voters who have no options other than D/R live in Alabama (except for two legislative districts), Florida (except for one congressional district), Maryland (except for one legislative district), six Virginia congressional districts and about half of Washington. Maryland and Virginia eased their ballot access laws this past year, but the changes don't take effect until 1999. A proposition to make ballot access easier in Florida is on the November ballot. If it passes, Alabama will have the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation.

The Libertarian Party is the most widely spread alternative party, before 73 percent of voters in all but seven states, D.C. Reform is before 59 percent of voters, but it failed to nominate candidates in many of the states in which it is qualified. U.S. Taxpayers is before 34 percent of voters, Natural Law is before 31 percent. Green is before 29 percent; Socialist Workers is before 12 percent; and Workers World, 10 percent. In single digits are New Party, 9 percent (New York, Minnesota and part of Oregon); Prohibition, 2 percent (Colorado and parts of Massachusetts and Utah); Socialist, 1 percent (Oregon); and Freedom Socialist, 0.4 percent (part of California, Washington, Oregon and New York).

The Working Families Party--a coalition of groups including the New Party, Citizen Action, ACORN, and major unions like the United Auto Workers and Communications Workers of America--is hoping to qualify as a permanent minor party with the nomination of City Council Speaker Peter Vallone as. Vallone is also the Democratic nominee, but if the Working Families Party gains 50,000 votes for Vallone it wins a ballot line for the next four years.

The Green Party is fielding candidates for governor in Alaska, California, Maine, Minnesota, New York and Oregon. The best-known candidate is octogenarian "Grandpa" Al Lewis, formerly of The Munsters TV show, in New York.

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